Contributing Writer

This photograph of Lignite that dates from the early part of the last century shows the community’s main street, a church (middle of the photo), businesses and homes, the manager’s mansion secluded at the far end of the street (remnants of that home’s two chimneys are still visible today), backyard privies (at the right of the photo) and various other buildings. A Craig Valley Railroad coal tipple used for transporting the coal is also visible along Lignite Road that leads to the ghost town off Craig Creek Road.

The term “ghost town” usually conjures up images of tumbleweeds and dusty western movies. But hidden away in the Jefferson National Forest of Virginia rests the abandoned town of Lignite: a ghost town right in Botetourt County’s backyard.

According to a register of ghost towns in the United States, the settlement was founded in the late 1800s by the Allegheny Ore and Iron Company to mine the ore that gave the town its name: lignite. This coal, also known as Brown Coal, is low quality but is still useable for the many forges that once dotted the Allegheny Mountains.

For decades, mining families lived in the town, which at its height was home not just to their homes, but several other buildings that made it a true town.

There was a church (visible in the accompanying photograph), a company store, a theater for performances, a school, a post office– everything that a town needed to prosper and to truly call itself more than just a dot on the map.

Several roads, now no longer used, ran the stretch from Eagle Rock and Oriskany to Lignite, the remains of which can still be seen today.

What happened to this bustling mining town?

The history of the Alleghany Ore and Iron Company shows that when the company found a better vein in Pennsylvania, the town was abandoned. Many of the buildings were dismantled and relocated to their new location in Coachville, Pa., where they operated under the name of the Lukens Steel Company. The miners, their livelihood now run dry, left the town in 1920 to be claimed by the forest.

It is there that the story could have ended. But, in a surprising twist, the story of Lignite continued on for nearly 30 more years. What were people to do, after all, with these abandoned homes?

Though the economy had gone from the town, the homes were certainly still useable. And while the closest city, Roanoke, was more than a day’s ride away, there were still the towns of Eagle Rock and Oriskany close by.

It was certainly enough of a draw for the people who moved into the houses after the miners left. According to local stories, when the town was first abandoned, people still slowly trickled in, finding the unused houses and claiming them for themselves at no cost. Who was there to pay for the home, when the previous owners had just left the place vacant and the land was now considered worthless?

So, the town of Lignite didn’t disappear overnight, not quite. Until 1950, people were still living in the homes, including the home of the former company manager (shown at the far end of the street). But, as it is told in local history in Alleghany, when it was revealed that the land was then supposed to be a part of the Jefferson National Forest, the tenants were required to move, and the town was truly abandoned.

Today, all that really remains are the traces of the roads leading in, which can be seen off Lignite Road off Craig Creek Road, or can be discovered when hiking along the trails of Bald Mountain. Follow those roads and they will lead to what remains of the town– the remnants of chimneys of the company manager’s house, building foundation ruins, and the remains of what used to be a main street. One of Virginia’s few true ghost towns is still standing, haunting visitors with the memory of what used to be.